September 05, 2013

Black Squirrel Half Marathon Recap!

  • Start: Lory State Park, Fort Collins, CO.
  • Distance: 13.1 miles with close to 2,000 feet of vertical gain and descent
  • Terrain: Dirt, hills, rocks
  • Fauna: Black Abert squirrels, black bears, other more colorful animals
  • Mode of Transportation: Foot
  • Date: Saturday August 31, 2013, 8:00am
* Taken from the race website.

"The half marathon course offers a tour of the outer boundaries of Lory State Park, providing breathtaking views to the east of Horsetooth Reservoir, Fort Collins and the Great Plains; and to the West of the awe-inspiring Rocky Mountain swell.
The race covers a variety of terrain, all of which is highly runnable and largely non-technical (an opinion that is entirely subjective and perhaps open to interpretation). After a mile of dirt roads, the trail ascends a little under four miles and 1,500 feet to the apex of the course at 7,000 feet on Lory’s west ridge. The views are well worth the climb. A rapid and somewhat technical descent follows, leaving three and a half miles of beautiful, gently rolling hardpacked singletrack into the finish, where runners can start chowing down at the post-race barbecue."

Half marathon four of four in August. The most draining experience I've had in quite some time.

Spoiler alert in case you didn't already know, this ends in a DNF at mile 8.3.

My dad and step-mom came in town this past Thursday (my birthday!) and we hung out Thursday night and Friday (and through Tuesday but I'll get to all that). It was awesome. When S left work on Thursday, he had trouble starting his truck up. The battery was toast. So that threw a little wrench in the plans for Saturday. I had to leave the house by 5:30 to get to the race in time to pick up my packet and mentally prepare (it was an hour and a half away) and my parents didn't want to wake up (I don't blame them) that early to go out to a race that they wouldn't be able to spectate. And S had a fantasy football draft all day on Saturday. So we needed three cars. Good thing S has the motorcycle! But that left me driving the giant tank, and my parents got my little civic. After dinner on Friday, we went to Autozone to buy a new battery for the truck, and soon after that we were back in business!

On Friday we did the VIP tour of the Coors Brewery (thanks, Jack!) and had lunch at Pasta Jay's...I don't remember dinner but either way it wasn't prime day-before-the-race fuel. I prepped all of my stuff, as usual, and hit the hay for an early wake-up.

5am, up and at it, and out the door before I know it to make the one and a half drive to the park. It wasn't a bad drive, just long, but I was in the Ft. Collins area before I knew it. I picked up my packet, got my bib on and tried my best to shake off the desire to just sit in the car for a few hours until I needed to meet my parents at a friend's house in Ft. Collins.

We all lined up, and BOOM, we're off. Allllmost immediately it's uphill. I'm running and trying to keep myself from being swept up with the small crowd of runners. It became easier to do when we hit this semi-significant uphill. Mostly everyone was still running, which made me feel completely inadequate to be out there with all of these very strong runners.

So I knew from the race website that there would be a large chunk of climbing right out the gate for the race, and then it's supposed to level out. After the Mountain Chile Cha Cha slaughtered me the previous weekend, I was hoping to just survive this race. We were heading almost constantly up the switchbacks, with very short sections of flats that I wasn't able to even run because I was breathing so hard.

Quickly I found myself in the very, very back of the usual.

I'm heading up these switchbacks, hoping the uphill would end soon, rationing out my water again. You can look down the trail and see little specks that were the cars where we parked. We were already pretty high up...deceivingly. I thought maybe we were close to the top. Not so much.

The last of the pack caught up to me and passed me when we started to get to an even steeper section of switchbacks. As you can see from the elevation profile, the course basically goes uphill for about 6 miles...but they only really tell you it goes uphill for about four miles and change. At about mile 3.something, I seriously contemplated just turning around and heading back down the mountain. I was in severe pain, mentally in a bad place, emotional, and generally just convinced that this would be my last race ever.

I persevered. I have to thank the clean up crew for that. At my moment of complete darkness, *Charles came up behind me collecting the ribbons marking the course. I almost broke down in tears when I saw him. He asked me if I had enough water (I was completely empty and really thirsty even just at 3 miles and change into the race) and he filled up my water bottle with his. Bless his heart. He was my savior that day. He asked if he could follow behind me and I didn't see much of a choice, and we got to chatting a bit which helped take my mind off the pain, but also made it harder to breathe.

After what seemed like a lifetime, we finally came into the aid station. I was under the impression that the aid station marked the top of the climb and that I would finally get a substantial downhill leading into rolling hills to the finish.

They lied.

I roll out of the aid station leaving my new buddy behind (I think he was being polite and giving me a head start) and after a very short downhill, you hit a big uphill. Uhm, what?! I thought I was done with this for at least a couple miles...

Then I heard something pop in my knee.

That was the final straw holding me together. I hobbled a little until deciding that this was it, I needed to pull out from the race. I debated heading back uphill to the aid station, or if I should just continue on, or stay put and wait for *Charles to come around again and ask for his help.

I decided to wait. Luckily I didn't have to wait long until he came back around, this time with another guy, *Jeff. Unfortunately for me, they told me that the ranger at the aid station wouldn't be leaving for quite some time and the best way to get off the mountain was to continue on the race course. Balls.

On we went. I did make sure they were aware of my knee and how much pain I was in and that my race was over. AKA...don't rush me because it doesn't matter now. We were afforded amazing views during more of an uphill (actually this uphill was pretty steep). And FINALLY the section I was waiting for, a long downhill.

It's a shame I couldn't run any of it, but honestly parts of the downhill were a little too technical for me to run anyway. I had as great of a time as I could with the three of us heading down the mountain, listening to the two of them chat about 100s and Leadville, we talked about college, future races, and they tried to make me feel better about the 50 coming up in December. Truly I am so grateful that they were there.

The downhill seemed to take foreeeever and I was just wondering if we were ever going to get to the next aid station where I could officially drop out and catch a ride. The mile leading up to that aid station was one of the toughest because it became steep parts of downhill stairs/rocks which were really tough on my knees. I was in all kinds of pain.

We found ourselves by Arthur's Rock and going through a sort of meadow that soon opened up to the aid station. I loved this aid station. Once one woman saw me, she let the other four know that a runner was coming in and they all started cheering for me. There aren't many worse feelings in the running world that I've experienced than knowing that your race is over but being cheered into the station with hopeful volunteers thinking you will continue. It literally brought tears to my eyes. I could barely eek out the words that I was dropping.

I thanked my new friends for keeping my mind off things for the past 5 miles and after sitting at the aid station for a minute or two, hopped onto the park ranger golf cart for a ride back to the truck. Deflated and defeated. Battered and beaten to hell. The funny thing is, while at that aid station, the thought crossed my mind to just suck it up and finish the last 4.5 miles. It passed quickly.

I think I did the right thing by pulling myself out of the race, but man. It's tough to know you have made the decision to drop at mile 5 but you still have to suffer through more miles before you can be done.

Once I got to the truck, I cried. I cried for my body. I cried for quitting. I cried for fear that this really could be my last race (self imposed). I know it seems silly to cry over this. The fun of running has been gone since the GTIS Half and I'm not sure how to get it back.

So now I have changed my training plan and made it into a plan based on time instead of miles. I have both, but I'm going to see if maybe going by time will take some of the stress and pressure off, bring back some enjoyment. I won't keep my garmin visible. I'm going to do what I can and see how far that gets me. End of story.

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